Facade Tectonics Conference – Part 1

I was very excited to attend this annual USC conference – from sustainability to robotics, this was a comprehensive and eye-opening conference which sparked a lot of interesting conversations among attendees.

First day of the conference, presented by global engineering firm Arup, was particularly memorable as we were presented with shocking facts about the state of local natural resources (did you know that California has lost 91% of its wetlands?)  As the matter of fact, the famous La Cienega Boulveard in Los Angeles, translates into “the swamp”, as it was a continual marshland before developing into a major artery.   This article by Nathan Masters includes a surprising map of the historical ecology of Ballona Creek Watershed (present day areas of Western Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, South Los Angeles, and Baldwin Hills) as researched by scientists.


Another interesting topic was presented by the Airport Environmental Manager for Los Angeles World Airports.  I know how much we all ‘love’ LAX – the traffic, the people, the long lines, lack of amenities, and overall frustrating navigation that makes it impossible to get to your gate on time.  As much as these are pressing issues, it is not what we discussed.  Instead, here are some interesting facts we were presented with:

-LAX uses 417 million gallons of water per year (that’s 7.4 gallons per passenger)

-LAX uses about 1.5 billion gallons of jet fuel per year

-LAX storm water system was designed in the 1960s and has not been updated since

Wow!  That last point conjured a lot of questions for us in the audience.  With such a high volume of water usage, surely LAX should have an extensive and up-to-date storm water system.  Additionally, though LAX has taken substantial measures to recycle water, they are still lacking a reclaimed water line to the central terminal.  It seems that a certain “ick factor” is still associated with recycled water in the general public’s eye.  Historically, California has been using reclaimed water for over a century to conserve our limited resources of fresh water.  Considering record droughts, an aging infrastructure and deterioration of the Delta , I would argue that water is the single most pressing environmental issue that Californians have to face with in the coming decades.  The Associations of California Water Agencies has a good website aiming to shed light on the urgency of our water crisis.

When we think about conserving energy in California, there are two theoretical in-direct scenarios:

Scenario A:  save energy by reducing our reliance on electricity.  This method indirectly saves water as well, since energy generation is a water intensive process.

Scenario B:  save energy by reducing our water usage, as the treatment and distribution of water requires a considerable amount of energy (otherwise referred to as “embodied energy”)

Now the million-dollar question that was posed by Arup: Is it possible that we could save more energy in Scenario B than in Scenario A?  In other words, can we possibly conserve more energy by conserving water?